Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Last of the Haussmans by Stephen Beresford

6 October 2012 Lyttelton Theatre, London

This was a matinee performance with a touch tour beforehand.  The National Theatre sends an audio CD with notes on the play with descriptions of the set, the characters and their clothing. 

At around 12.45, we gathered in the foyer and were taken back stage in the Lyttelton Theatre.  Andrew Holland, one of the describers, with Tony McBride was there to explain the complex set which is a house on a revolving stage.  The revolve mechanism is sparingly used in this proscenium theatre though the set was open to view at all times. 

The house is in a state of dereliction with clutter gathered from the originally inherited property, along with trinkets, ephemera and junk associated with the 1960s.  We were invited to explore the set.  Two weeks ago, we had the thrill of being revolved on the Olivier set.  However, the set for the Last of the Haussmans has much tighter clearances and requires some nifty footwork on the part of the actors. 

I wandered around the stage and my cane picked up the cobbled terrace surface with moss, reminding me of monoblock driveways which are magnets for jet clean cowboy merchants.  Inside the house itself, I was in a dining area, then the sofa and coffee table room when I noticed an ashtray and dipped my finger in it.  Expecting some authentic National Theatre cigarette ash and a few stubs, I was surprised to feel a cool wet liquid.  Later on in the kitchen I was joined by David Milling, the stage manager, and we discussed props in the kitchen and I asked about the ashtray.  Back came the answer that it was KY Gel. 

David explained the significance of some of the props including the use of the loud hailer or megaphone to be used by Judy (Julie Walters).  Stephen Beresford had recalled an incident when boat trips approaching a relative’s would announce the appearance of some of the properties in view and the relative would pick up the megaphone and shout back.  I understand the feeling, having shouted back to the radio.   We continued to discuss theatre, audio description and how helpful these touch tours are to visually impaired people who can’t observe some actions on stage or indeed identify some characters. 

At this point we were joined by someone who introduced himself to me as Rory and I asked if he was Rory Kinnear, who plays Nick.  It was indeed Rory Kinnear and as the Haussmans is very much a product of the 1960s, I mentioned that his father, Roy Kinnear, had spoken at my school in Edinburgh around 1967.  Rory discussed his part in the play and some questions were asked about his costumes and how “filthy” they were in reality.   

Soon it was time to get our headsets from Reuben Lane who gave us directions in finding the correct door to get to our seats.  Large print copies of the cast list were also available.  The performance started at 14.15 and the audio description started about 20 minutes before with Reuben making a sound check. 

Characters in order of speaking

Libby – Helen McCrory
Nick – Rory Kinnear
Summer – Isabella Laughland
Judy – Julie Walters
Peter – Matthew Marsh
Daniel – Taron Egerton

Stage Manager – David Milling

The play follows in chronological stages, cued by lighting and revolutions of the set.  Themes of sibling rivalry are introduced by Libby and Nick and then the stroppy teenager enters.  The dialogue is current, though there are some references to certain British institutions such as the broadcasting Dimbleby.  Some knowledge of the geography of Plymouth and South Devon is useful as is the predilection of the British for the Donkey Sanctuary. 

This play could certainly transfer to The Hamptons, Hilton Head Island, Starnberger See or Lake Geneva.  The dialogue is slick and timing excellent.  The audio description is useful in getting some of the cues such as the lighting of a cigarette and the opening of an over shaken drinks can.

The programme notes are sparse apart from a timeline through the period from 1960 to 1978 and extracts from speeches or articles by characters then and later on such as Dominic Sandbrook, Arthur Marwick, Jenny Diski, Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair.  The play evokes memories for those of a certain age now that the 1960s are being contextually analysed by talking heads.  Much of the experience of the 1960s has always been parodied by those who say that if you could remember the period then you did not live it.   I overheard some people behind me commenting on the aged hippy syndrome. 

National Theatre webpage for The Last of the Haussmans: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-last-of-the-haussmans

There is an interesting video on YouTube of cast interviews as well as comments by the playwright Stephen Beresford.

The play will be broadcast live to cinemas across the UK and internationally.  More information on dates and venues is available on:

Information on other NT productions to be broadcast can be found on:

There is also an interesting video on the NT website with Tony McBride talking about the process of audio describing a play:

More information on facilities at the NT for the visually impaired can be found on: